Chapter 8 – The Golden Age of the Saṅkīrtana Movement
Question: In a pamphlet entitled, Śrīla Prabhupāda: The Founder-ācārya of the Golden Age, it is constantly emphasised that the formation of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s institution is the beginning of the Golden Age of Kali-yuga, and that Śrīla Prabhupāda is the ācārya for the Golden Age. Furthermore, the phrase, “For ten-thousand years my books will guide the world” is attributed to Prabhupāda and often repeated. Are we to regard such statements as authoritative for all Vaiṣṇavas, or could the author have been carried away by his own sentiments? Is Śrīla Prabhupāda the ācārya for the Golden Age?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: I think that the author has been carried away by his own sentiments. In the pamphlet you are referring to, many statements are out of context or written with the mood of āmāra guru jagat-guru (my guru is the guru for the entire world). Such statements have no universal application, however well-intended their author may be.
In any event, the phrase attributed to Śrīla Prabhupāda, “For ten-thousand years my books will guide the world,” is actually not verifiable. He may or may not have said it. Obviously, some devotees think that he did, otherwise they would not quote it. But it is not mentioned in any of the main books, articles, lectures, letters, room conversations, morning walks and so forth which have been recorded and preserved in the archives of our Guru Mahārāja. Therefore, we do not accept such hearsay as an absolute or authoritative statement. There are 484 references by Śrīla Prabhupāda in the Bhaktivedānta VedaBase to “my books” – none of which even remotely alludes to the famous quote about the ‘Golden Age of ten-thousand years’. Only in the Śrīla Prabhupāda-līlāmṛta do we find the quote. Satsvarūpa Dāsa Gosvāmī writes:
“One day in the car he had said, ‘My books will be the law-books for human society for the next ten-thousand years.’” (Śrīla Prabhupāda-līlāmṛta, Vol.6, Chapter 50)
It is not mentioned where Śrīla Prabhupāda said this, or when, or who was present. Nevertheless, let us consider the possible truth of the statement, for surely it has its validity in transcendental arrangements. What were Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books in the first place? Were his books his own creation or were they something else? Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books were, for the most part, translations of, and commentaries on the already existing books written by such empowered personalities as Śrīla Vyāsadeva, Śrīla Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, and Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī.
Śrīla Prabhupāda did not take credit for his own writing, but rather repeatedly took pains to proclaim that he was following in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas. In fact, the Bhaktivedānta Purports are so much in line with the purports of previous ācāryas that, in many cases, one could say they are direct translations of the previous ācārya’s purports. Indeed, they are, but one would never know it unless one took the trouble to examine the writings of the previous ācāryas. In a room conversation on February 26th, 1973, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “They are not my books. I am simply translating.”
The intimate relation between the Bhaktivedānta Purports and those of the previous ācāryas is the true glory of Śrīla Prabhupāda. He did not add anything or take anything away; he simply repeated the words of previous ācāryas. Therefore, how could the previous ācāryas be any less important? We should remember that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said that anyone who does not recognise his ‘Swami’ is a prostitute. Mahāprabhu made this statement as an admonishment to Vallabhācārya, who failed to recognise the importance of Śrīdhara Svāmī, the original commentator on Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.
Śrīla Vyāsadeva was directly empowered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the mature product of the samādhi (meditation) of Vyāsadeva was Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. We find also that Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī was directly empowered by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu to distribute bhakti-rasa throughout the world, and he was specifically instructed to write books on the science of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Actually, it is Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī who is the head of our sampradāya.
śrī-caitanya-manobhiṣṭaṁ sthāpitaṁ yena bhū-tale
svayaṁ rūpaḥ kadā māhyaṁ dadāti sva-padāntikam
“When will Śrī Rūpa, who has established the cherished desire of Śrī Caitanya within this world, give me shelter at his lotus feet.” (Prema-bhakti-candrikā)
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī established the mission of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu in this world, and thus it is he (Śrī Rūpa) who is the actual ācārya for the period of the Golden Age. Hence, all members of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s saṅkīrtana movement are called ‘rūpānugas,’ the followers of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī.
mahāprabhu śrī-caitanya, rādhā-kṛṣṇa nahe anya
“Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who is non-different from Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, is very dear to the followers of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī.” (Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura)
The test of a genuine disciple lies in how well he has understood the purpose of the spiritual master. It is surprising, even alarming, that some devotees ignore the fact that the goal of being a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda is to become a rūpānuga. This is confirmed in the Bhaktivedānta Purport to Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 19.132 as follows:
“That was Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s opinion, and he specifically told his disciples to write books. He actually preferred to publish books rather than establish temples. Temple construction is meant for the general populace and neophyte devotees, but the business of advanced and empowered devotees is to write books, publish them and distribute them widely. According to Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, distributing literature is like playing on a great mṛdaṅga. Consequently, we always request members of the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness to publish as many books as possible and distribute them widely throughout the world. By thus following in the footsteps of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, one can become a ‘rūpānuga’ devotee.”
Ironically, some pretenders who claim to be great ācāryas decry the saṅkīrtana movement by saying that the distribution of transcendental literature is only karma-yoga. Such persons are kaniṣṭha-adhikārīs (the lowest type of devotees) who have no real knowledge of what it means to be a rūpānuga.
The Six Gosvāmīs, headed by Śrī Rūpa, carefully studied all the revealed scriptures with the aim of establishing eternal religious principles for the benefit of all human beings. Śrīnivāsa Ācārya establishes this conclusion:
lokānāṁ hita-kāriṇau tri-bhuvane mānyau śaraṇyākarau
vande rūpa-sanātanau raghu-yugau śrī-jīva-gopālakau
“I offer my obeisances unto Śrī Rūpa, Sanātana, Raghunātha Dāsa, Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa. Śrī Jīva and Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, who are expert in deliberating upon the śāstras in order to establish true dharma. Because they perform the highest welfare activities for humanity at large, they are honoured throughout the three worlds and are worthy of full surrender. They are absorbed in bhajana to the lotus feet of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and are intoxicated with transcendental bliss.” (Ṣaḍ Gosvāmyaṣṭakam 2)
Therefore, it must be concluded that the books of the Six Gosvāmīs are indeed intended to guide the world and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s translations and commentary on them must also be of the same quality. A similar position is held by Śrīla Kṛṣṇa Dāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, in that he was empowered to write the Caitanya-caritāmṛta.
more ājña karilā sabe karuṇā kariyā
tāṅ-sabāra bole likhi nirlajja haiyā
“All the devotees have mercifully instructed me. Although I am shameless, due to their order, I have attempted to write.” (Cc. Ādi-līlā 8.72)
In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta we also find mention that Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura was the Vyāsadeva of gaura-līlā, and therefore no intelligent devotee could possibly dismiss his writings as unessential. Actually, without being empowered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, no one can write transcendental literature. The fact is that the Gauḍīya sampradāya has a great number of such literatures written by empowered personalities. It is the super-excellent characteristic of the Gauḍīya sampradāya that it has the greatest collection of transcendental literature the world has ever known. All such literature is meant to guide the world.
kali-kālera dharma kṛṣṇa-nāma-saṅkīrtana
kṛṣṇa-śakti vinā nahe tāra pravartana
“The dharma of the Age of Kali is the chanting of the Name of Kṛṣṇa. Without being empowered by Kṛṣṇa, one cannot spread the saṅkīrtana movement.” (Cc. Antya-līlā 7.11)
It is a most glaring defect in certain sections of contemporary Vaiṣṇava society that some devotees want to replace Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, who was appointed as the ācārya of our sampradāya by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, with Śrīla Prabhupāda. Discounting the contribution of all ācāryas and missions since the time of Śrī Caitanya, some persons declare that Śrīla Prabhupāda’s arrival in the West marks the beginning of the Golden Age. It is a foolish proposal and Śrīla Prabhupāda would certainly not sanction such inappropriate conclusions.
It is a fact that during Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lifetime, his society did perform wonderful service to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s saṅkīrtana movement. This is to the eternal credit of all those souls who participated. Yet pride seems to be the greatest enemy of many of those souls who once served the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda, and consequently received the blessings of Mahāprabhu on their humble heads. It is truly unfortunate that in the two and a half decades since the disappearance of Śrīla Prabhupāda, some proud and arrogant disciples have brought more disgrace to His Divine Grace, his movement, and the Gauḍīya sampradāya than has befallen the whole of Vaiṣṇavism in the past 5000 years. It is sad, it is unfortunate, but it is true – and all in the name of society consciousness!
There is indeed a Golden Age within the age of Kali-yuga, but that age began with Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and the advent of His saṅkīrtana movement, and not with the forming of any institution in modern times. There is no monopoly on the saṅkīrtana movement by any institution; the paramparā itself retains all rights. Whosoever takes up the saṅkīrtana movement will prosper spiritually, and whosoever deviates from the principles of pure devotion will reap a harvest of mixed results. Śrīla Prabhupāda mentioned a ten-thousand year period in his Bhāgavatam commentary as follows:
“When Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu appeared, He ushered in the era for this saṅkīrtana movement. It is also said that for ten-thousand years this era will continue. This means that simply by accepting the saṅkīrtana movement and chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, the fallen souls of Kali-yuga will be delivered. The ten-thousand years of the saṅkīrtana movement inaugurated by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu five-hundred years ago provide the opportunity for the fallen souls of Kali-yuga to take to the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.” (Bhāg. 8.5.23 purport)
Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura predicted in his Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata:
pṛthivīte āche yata nagarādi-grāma
sarvatra pracāra haibe mora nāma
“In as many towns and villages as there are on the surface of the earth, My Holy Name will be preached everywhere.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata, Antya-khaṇḍa 4.126)
It is a fact that Śrīla Prabhupāda was the one who conducted a preaching mission beyond the borders of India that astonished the Vaiṣṇava world. Many of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s god-brothers remarked, ‘We could not imagine how the prophecy of Mahāprabhu was to be fulfilled.’ The god-brothers were wonder-struck that ‘Swami Mahārāja’ (Śrīla Prabhupāda) had done it! Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja commented, “It is wonderful that Kṛṣṇa always acts through someone. Swami Mahārāja has done a miracle! We are happy, we are glad and we are proud.” Śrīla Locana Dāsa Ṭhākura mentions in his book, Śrī Caitanya-maṅgala:
ebe nāma-saṅkīrtana tikṣṇa khaḍaga laiyā
antara asura jīvera phelibe katiyā
yadi pāpi chāḍi dharma dūre deśe yāya
mora senā-pati-bhakta yaibe tathāya
“(Mahāprabhu said:) Taking the sharp sword of the congregational chanting of the Holy Name, I will destroy the demoniac mentality within the jīvas. If some sinful people give up dharma and go to far off countries, then My general (senāpati-bhakta) will go there.” (Caitanya-maṅgala, Sūtra-khaṇḍa 12. 564-565)
Thus, Locana Dāsa Ṭhākura predicted that in the future there would appear a senāpati (a great general), who would cause an inundation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness throughout the world. In the opinion of many devotees, that personality was Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda. Yet it is doubtful that Śrīla Prabhupāda would agree with them, as he always considered himself a humble servant of his Guru Mahārāja, Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. This is the reason he was chosen and empowered by guru and Kṛṣṇa to accomplish this service to the saṅkīrtana movement.
However, greatly learned scholars and pure devotees who know the purport of the scriptures, have understood the senāpati mentioned in Caitanya-maṅgala to refer to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. Between 1918 and 1936, Sarasvatī Ṭhākura caused a wave of Kṛṣṇa consciousness in Bengal that would indeed inundate the whole world. The sound of the kīrtana raised by Sarasvatī Ṭhākura conquered the ten directions, silencing the atheists, the impersonalist speculators, and the imitationist sahajiyā section of pseudo-Vaiṣṇavism.
Sarasvatī Ṭhākura orchestrated a great preaching movement for eighteen years, awarding the triple staff of renunciation to his disciples and then sending these sannyāsīs to preach throughout India, and eventually to western countries. Before his departure, Sarasvatī Ṭhākura commented that he desired to spend at least ten years preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the western world. Sarasvatī Ṭhākura was unable to do this before his disappearance in 1936. However, through his intimate disciple, Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda, Sarasvatī Ṭhākura’s last desire for preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the west was fulfilled. Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda continued the work of the senāpati foretold by Locana Dāsa Ṭ hākura, and Sarasvatī Ṭhākura’s numerous disciples and grand disciples carry on the same work up to the present day.
Some persons might object that we do not concede that Śrīla Prabhupāda is the senāpati spoken of in Caitanya-maṅgala. Such an objection shows a lack of understanding of the guru-paramparā and the position of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, both in contemporary society and in aprākṛta-līlā (the eternal pastimes of the Supreme Lord).
Sarasvatī Ṭhākura appeared in this world by the prayer of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, who implored Lord Jagannātha to send His representative to fulfil the prophecy of Mahāprabhu to spread the Holy Name in every town and village. In response, Sarasvatī Ṭhākura appeared as the fourth son of Bhaktivinoda.
Devotees often overlook this ecstatic piece of transcendental knowledge when trying to establish the greatness of Śrīla Prabhupāda. We should remember that the greatness of Śrīla Prabhupāda does not reside in our concocted ideas. Certainly it does not reside in putting Śrīla Prabhupāda in the position of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī (the sampradāya-ācārya), or in the position of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura (the senāpati who appeared in this world as a direct response to the prayer of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura). Such concocted attempts at glorifying Śrīla Prabhupāda fail miserably, due to being tainted with the kaniṣṭha mentality of āmāra guru jagat-guru.
The actual greatness of Śrīla Prabhupāda is beyond challenge. Yet he reserves the right of proper disclosure, the right to reveal his eternal identity to those who are free from envy. What Śrīla Prabhupāda did in this world is written in eternal history. Yet to separate him from the very root of his greatness in an attempt to glorify him, denotes a lack of transcendental vision. Such kaniṣṭha disciples are often found to be in the category of guru-bhogī (one who enjoys the property and mission of the guru), rather than in the position of guru-sevaka (one who serves the vision of the guru).
The greatness of Śrīla Prabhupāda is not understood or expressed by concoction or sentimental exaggeration. The transcendental position of His Divine Grace can only be realised when one sees how Śrīla Prabhupāda is connected to the paramparā of great masters, and what qualifications earned him that illustrious position. The bona-fide disciple earns this right of divine vision through a lifetime of service and dedication at the lotus feet of the spiritual master – not by any amount of mundane speculation. There is no other way to the truth than this.